James and Leslie, a partnership like many other, when they work together amazing things can happen.
After Leslie has been slogging her guts out in the kitchen and around the house she can sometimes be found sitting on a barstool at the Drumchork Lodge Hotel in Autbea, where she will happily share some amazing tales. As for James, he manages the Little Gruinard Estate which, apart from occasionally whipping a salmon rod across the Garden Pool can be found chatting to Kenny, the Estate Shepherd. Sometimes James can be found in the woods felling some of the older trees and storing them for drying out. His study and workbench window looks out over Gruinard Bay; front and centre is a fly-tying vice with feathers, twine and other assorted bits and bobs all surrounding the window frame.
One of the outer barns, which aside from housing chicken feed and firewood is the home of the smoky barrels. James with the help of Geordie Mundell (a frequent house guest) set up a series of 55gallon oil drums and turned them into smokers to cure fish.
As with the many “Heath Robinson” activities that happen on the Estate grounds Geordie was at the centre of them. On this occasion Geordie had been asked to garage or find a home for a wood Chipper.
He remembered that James had collected a series of oil drums that had washed up on the beach – with a few simple cuts and rod insertions they were turned into smokers.
The damp wood chips (no bigger than a 20pence piece) are the perfect fuel to create a “smokey” – quite an art form getting it going. Once up and running the temptation to open the lid is a mistake they kept making at the beginning.
This little production line was specifically used for the abundance of mackerel that were caught in the bay. Being quite an oily fish (unlike salmon) the smoking took place after the fish was bathed in salt and then slowly cooked towards the end (effectively kiln roasted).
Once the technique was perfected Leslie found the perfect use for her food mixer and blender – from that moment on it was as if every house on #NC500 were being given smoked mackerel pate as a present.
Needless to say it made its way to the bar at the Drumchork Hotel, paired with melba toast it was suggested that the ultimate combination was the local whisky. This brings a whole new meaning to a garage sale - it just so happens that the whisky was distilled in the hotel garage…
A story for another time.
Little Gruinard river: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Gruinard
Wired Article, W Heath Robinson: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/heath-robinson-deserves-a-museum
Colin Gilchrist (whisky enthusiast), guest blogger.
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